What is a Visionist?

"A visionist is an artist, a creator or an individual that sees beyond what is visible to the eyes and brains of human beings. Visionists are thinkers, they are the recognisable brains in soociety, but most times they are seen as absurd, "nerds" and misfits – they just don't fit into the societies. They are people with great dreams and minds."

The English Wikipedia

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Kids From Cleveland and the New Millennium

A couple of postings ago, I said I began this blog, exactly one year ago, due to some frustrations with the results of other things I was doing at the time. Most of all, it was because I had written a piece with great inspiration in late 2008 about something that I cared deeply about, namely my own kids and what they represented in terms of generational change. Unfortunately, I had absolutely no response from any of the magazines to which I sent the article. My response was to just go ahead and start this blog, thinking that I did not need a publisher to express myself. What I failed to do, however, was to post the article itself, probably because I thought it was much too long to be considered a blog posting. But thinking about it, what do I really have to lose by posting it now, on the first anniversary of The Visionist and the beginning of a new decade? This decision is also deeply driven by my recent desire to reimmerse myself in English literature. I chose English lit, because I have always considered the English superior to us Americans in expressing themselves in our common language. This project has not been hard to do: I merely pulled out my two volume Norton's Anthology of English Literature, in its original edition which I still have in my library from my years in college, and started reviewing it.

But my purpose here is not to go on about my inspirations, but to actually post the article for anyone who wishes to read it. I hope you enjoy it. Bear in mind that it has not been updated since August of 2008.

The Kids from Cleveland: The Millennials Take New York

New York City is considered the capital of the universe by many people. It is undoubtedly the world's most cosmopolitan city, the financial center of the planet, home of the closest thing to a world government, a city who’s Statue of Liberty has served as a symbol for universal freedom and whose Wall Street is the home for "unbridled exuberance." Since 9/11, it has been the icon of Western Civilization threatened by terrorism. It has the world’s best hospitals, some of its best universities and museums, and a collection of cultural centers, especially Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Opera. And, of course, it has Broadway. It is not the most beautiful city in the world—Paris, Rio, Hong Kong or San Francisco beat it esthetically--but it has never failed to be a city that attracts. Since “Delicious Little Devil,” staring Rudolf Valentino, was made in and about New York in 1919, hundreds of other films have been made using the city as their backdrop--133 in this decade by last count. At least 23 disaster movies have used New York's destruction as a symbolic end to life on the planet.

Mostly, however, New York is famous for gritty love stories told in movies and TV, set against the streets and parks of New York. Even such a light, recent Cinderella fantasy as “Enchanted“ could not resist using New York as a backdrop. New York is romantic. It is also inevitably the setting for playing out our American urban social dramas, from Seinfeld, Friends and Sex in the City, which we watch over and over again in all their reruns. And even then we have an appetite to see Sex in the City as a full length movie a decade later. We want to know how youngish singles—a stage of life that now goes on seemingly forever--manage their lives struggling to meet a mate, find and keep a job or even an affordable apartment. It is a Mecca that draws annually tens of thousands of other singles there to begin high velocity careers and to seek fame and fortune. It draws the young like moths to a flame. I recognize that this view of New York is pretty much drawn from fantasy, more common among those who don't actually live there, and the city itself can be many things to many people. But New York is and always will be special with its special appeal. I have a cousin who literally picked up after 9/11 and moved to Canada. Five years later, she is moving back to New York because her four daughters will all be there and she feels the need to be close to them. Even the thought that you are living in a big target with a bulls eye on it does not stop people from wanting to be in New York.

For this reason, there is an intrinsic general interest in trying to find out and understand what makes this huge city tick and what is happening there now. I have lived in New York four times in my life, as a kid born in the relentlessly unglamorous Bronx when it was still mostly Jewish, Irish and Italian (How many people know that the Bronx still has its own “Little Italy”); as a grad student at Columbia University during the student revolution of 1968; as a US diplomat working at the UN; and as the Director of one of the Roosevelt historic sites in Hyde Park, NY, two hours north of “the City” and halfway up the Hudson River, living in Poughkeepsie. I consider myself a New Yorker and still visit the city frequently, although it may one day be too expensive to even visit for a long weekend.

I was fascinated by the success of the film, “The Devil Wears Prada”, with its typical cute and perky innocent young college grad who comes up against the awesome power of a fashion magazine director, based on a true story about Vogue. As the Boomer father of two twenty-somethings, who, upon graduating from college, decided to begin their adult lives in New York, I saw my son struggling just like Ann Hathaway running after moguls who exploited the energy and quickness of youth, to get as much out of them as possible and to fuel the needs of large organizations. In fact, at that time, my son Andrew had just started working for an important NYC photographic agency, and was much in that same situation, in a no benefits position working the night shift processing photos of celebs at $10 an hour! But he was constantly in contact with New York society and held the hope that this job would “lead to something.” Like the evening his boss drove by the office to drop off a camera full of photos and happened to have in the limo with him Bright Lights, Big City scribe Jay Mc Inerney and Sex and the City author Candice Bushnell . What would Andrew's future be like with these images flashing before him? Would these owners of the New York zeitgeist pass on to him and his generation the flames of success and excitement that make up fame? (Big time photographer boss always suggested to Andrew to wear a suit and lose weight, but for Andrew wearing a big, baggy sweater bought in a thrift shop was his way of making a “statement” in the face of such celebrity. In the end, rebellion, not conformity, would be his way. And he is still resisting losing weight.)

I wish to tell here a story not known yet by all those who are waiting with bated breath for the next Seinfeld or Sex and the City story to appear. It is the story of today's twenty-somethings who are struggling to make it in the Big Apple and how they are different. It is also and why I have such huge hopes for their generation. They are truly a networked generation called the “Millennial generation.” I do not want to go into a lot of details here about the Millennials, but encourage others to read up on them, particularly Howe and Strauss’s book, Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation and the other books Howe and Strauss wrote leading up to it. This generation, whose members were born beginning in 1982 (Andrew’s birth year) and started turning 18 at the Millennium, were just entering college when Millennials Rising was written. Now, they have entered the work force. For those who have caught on to their existence, the Millennials represent a huge hope for the future of humanity, akin to that of the “Greatest Generation” of World War II. Generational analysis has an inherent appeal because we talk about different generations in our common language and believe they exist. I am not sure if truly scientific social scientists have totally embraced these concepts as they require us to wrap our arms around a lot of people and try to characterize them. However, certainly generational thinking has been important in the fields of history and of both advertising and human resources, where professionals take demographics very seriously. If we are not convinced that the Greatest Generation existed, we all know about the Baby Boomers, and for the total cynics think how much we have embraced the generation that made our own American Revolution, that of Washington, Jefferson, Madison and John Adams.

When we talk of generations, this is often associated with cultural or artistic groups or intellectuals as much as at entire generations as the Millennials formulation talks to. The whole idea of the “Beat Generation,” the “Lost Generation,” or even the “60s Generation,” were cultural groups marked be certain historical eras that generated groups of people whose alienation from society around them caused them to create countercultures to the existing social reality. They also required the creating of “Bohemia,” a physical and social space apart from conventional society. Russell Jacoby talks of this in The Last Intellectuals, decrying the loss of public intellectuals in the 1960s and beyond based on the impact of suburban, middle class life and the growth of large public, bureaucratic universities on independent thinkers and writers in America. . Bohemia requires low rent and a concentration of inexpensive meeting places like cheap cafes and restaurants and a collection of bookshops and art galleries. Such is in fact the setting for Puccini’s popular opera La Boheme set in 1830s Paris, the city which has most competed with New York over the years as a draw to artists and writers. (La Boheme also was the inspiration for the musical and movie Rent, which brought its themes to New York.) Greenwich Village was Bohemia par excellence in New York of the late 1940s and 1950s. Jacoby saw it petering out by the 60s as a complete countercultural generation replaced the few artists and writers who previously made up the Beats. The Kids from Cleveland about whom I write have no less of a need for cheap rents and inexpensive food and entertainment. Brooklyn has become their haven, with most of them settling into less expensive apartments with two or three other friends. So much is going on in Brooklyn now that it is not necessary to get to Manhattan for many activities or even for work. But everyone has a monthly pass on the MTA to handle transportation needs. And it is no big deal to bop in and out of Manhattan in the course of the day. I have been amazed that just about every time I am with my kids in Brooklyn, we inevitably run into some of their Cleveland friends by just walking in the streets.

My knowledge of the Millennials is based more on the experience of my own kids. I want to tell their story here, and will request forgiveness in advance if I seem compelled to tell it in some detail: I wanted to make sure that no element of this story, based on the roles of each member of their extended network, was lost. Andrew went to the Cleveland Institute of Art or CIA, where he wanted to be an industrial designer but got swept up in an effort by the school to create a "multi-media" major with the weird name of TIME, “Technology and Integrated Media Environments.” We were concerned that he was going from the precise to the fuzzy-minded and a very solidly defined career to something vague and without convincing income prospects. However, Andrew was for it and it was really his decision. For me the notion that ID was industrial, while TIME was post-industrial, clinched the argument. Our daughter Dana, thank goodness, however, wanted to be an architect, got admitted to Cooper Union in NYC, with its automatic full tuition scholarships, and we knew that at least one of our kids would have an easier time at defining her career.

Something happened to our son when he turned to this new media approach. He became an entrepreneur at heart and an "anti-corporate" believer (Andrew prefers to put it this way: *i am not anti corporate, i would like to have my own corporation at some point, i just don't want to work for anybody else*) . He wanted to do his own thing, albeit something very eclectic and “highly accessible*. Thank goodness, he also learned a lot of useful skills in the first two years of “foundation,” from basic art study of color and perspective, drawing and painting to digital design techniques, photography and videography (Andrew says *a lot of my professors didn't agree with anything i had to say in school until i proved them wrong*). He also became a skillful organizer and actually a leader, pulling together his classmates and friends and a lot of people within his environment and community into "projects." The gift of gab and art of B.S.ing were also thickly acquired. I don't always recognized the so-called projects as anything other than weird ideas, but have trouble second guessing someone who is so convinced he is right. Until proven otherwise, it seems best to let these ideas roll. Occasionally though I have called a spade a spade, like his idea that you could get thousands and thousands of people to pass colored balls to each coast (*your entire world has been constructed by successful results of experiments in behavior- the whole "passing balls thing" could be a new way that people interact.” Yea, right.) I saw what he was trying to do, but didn't see much value in it and doubted human nature's susceptibility to such an idea.

This organizational prowess came to the fore in Andrew's senior project at the CIA. Against the advice of his professors and advisors, Andrew decided to make as his project the organization of a massive show of illusionists, called The Grand Illusion. Modeled somewhat on American Idol (*taking advantage of the seductive social nature of REALITY TV as well as FANTASY FILM - borrowing from the strengths of both popular mediums- do not forget to include harry potter*)-(*also the project was very influenced by the trans sexual African American BALLROOM EVENTS- where an entire alternate society was created from gender flip flopping* - the big resource for this culture is the movie PARIS IS BURNING). There were a series of trial events to select volunteer performers, drawing not only from the CIA students, but also from those at neighboring Case Western University and the local Cleveland street community as well. Andrew worked with roommates Shawn, Jed and friend Johnny on The Grand Illusion. But he wound up drawing nearly his whole social network in Cleveland into The Grand Illusion," (http://www.grandillusion.tv/the_site/index.html ), not to be confused with the Jean Renoir movie of the same name. In the end, the show took place on Case Western’s Amasa Stone Chapel, with an audience of over 500 enthusiastic attendees. The Master of Ceremonies was one "Lady Divinity," a rather large transvestite with a personality and boobs to match her size. Lady Divinity was found at a local dry cleaning store near campus. Other street people, those without many other commitments were drawn into the event. One particular hilariously outrageous personality, a Black transsexual named Ivy, claimed to be a “runway coach,” and would have been the show's MC, but dropped out because he could never keep appointments. A local hair dresser named Antonio got involved as did his mother. Andrew's roommate from CIA, Jed, wound up doing an illusion in which he married himself: nobody in Cleveland knew Jed was an identical twin, and his brother flew in from Seattle for the show. The entire show was a big deal at CIA and won Andrew a position at graduation as class valedictorians, along with fellow CIA student, Ben Kinsley, with whom Andrew spent a semester abroad during their fourth year in Shwaebisch Hall, Germany, at Fachhochschule Shwaebisch Hall (FHSH). Ben did his own thesis project, it got the top award – and Andrew filmed the footage in collaboration with him. They did not give speeches. Rather they read a rather unconventional tirade.

What goes on during a person's time at college often shapes his future in unforeseen ways. Andrew's roommate his second year at CIA, Pete Tradowsky, is a Cleveland guy but who went to an exclusive private high school there named Hawken. Frank and Tyler, friends of Pete's from Hawken, went to Bard College north of Hyde Park, New York, and when Andrew would come home to Poughkeepsie, he would bring Pete and 3 or 4 other friends who crashed at our house and wound up hooking up with Pete’s friends at Bard and their friend, including a girl named Hannah, Alan Astor, Chris Glover, and Luke. Also, they hooked up with Andrew's friends from Poughkeepsie's Spackenkill High School, a public school that largely served the well-educated, international IBM community in that city. There was a period in Andrew's attendance at CIA when he looked for like-minded friends at Case Western, finding some of the CIA students too vague and artsy. There he made a host of connections, many of whom got drawn into the Grand Illusion and other similar projects.

One thing that helped build Andrew's Cleveland network was his living in a huge old apartment with 5 bedrooms and as many roommates on Ford Street, just a block from the main CIA building. The apartment had a large living area and a small balcony, with a spectacular view of Case Western’s Business School designed by Frank Ghery, which made it a natural for informal parties. Cleveland is a relatively inexpensive city (Andrew’s rent never was raised over four years) in which life was pretty easy for these students, few of whom had major resources. We gave Andrew our aging 1991 Ford Taurus station wagon, which served him and his crew well for shopping and trips for a few years until he ran it into the dust somewhere on the New York Thruway. This meant informal entertaining, cooking and a "moveable feast" atmosphere pervaded the Cleveland student scene. A group of friends began to accumulate. An important presence for the group were some interesting Asian girls, Fuki, a Japanese student at Case with a particular flare, style and gravitas that makes you pay attention to her. Just thinking of a traditionally repressed Japanese who manages to throw off the bonds of culture and becomes a totally free spirit--a la Yoko Ono--is itself exciting. Thu Tran, a Vietnamese girl with a gift for cooking as well as her art, glass blowing, also became a regular at Ford St, but actually lived with some art students at another apartment down the street.

It is important to acknowledge also the diversity of this group. First of all, Andrew’s friends from Poughkeepsie were like the United Nations: Korean, Indian, Caribbean. In Cleveland itself, his friends were both male and female, gay and straight. Gays make up an important element within this artsy group, ands his two principal roommates, with whom he is again living in NYC, were gay as are others like Antonio the hairdresser. Art schools tend to have a greater diversity in this regard and Dana also has a number of gay friends from the Art school at Cooper. The gay kids added something creative to the group. Jed, who was one of a very few “Enameling” majors at CIA, loves to cook and is a great organizer (Andrew is not at the micro level and relies on Jed's neatness and need for order to move his projects along). He is now working as a stylist for production of Emeril Legasse’s new show on the soon to be launched Green Network. Shawn, although a TIME major, switched to “Fibers and Materials” and wound up being a pretty good make-up artist and a designer of specialty jeans and other clothing. Both Jed and Shawn played important roles in the Grand Illusion show. Johnny, who bopped in and out of schools charmed the world with his good looks and compliments but satisfied himself waiting on tables at a high end New York bar and grill. The most interesting thing about this group and this generation is that they are totally at ease with diversity of all kinds as they have a common set of values rooted in 21st century American culture. But this tolerance and openness is possibly most easy to sustain in a big city artistic, entertainment and media milieu like NYC.

A number of Andrew's friends were interested in and moving towards the electronic music scene, which Andrew was also involved in from high school. They merged computer skills with eclectic music production. These included a group like Drop the Lime, and some of Andrew's friends began to succeed in their music. Gregg Gillis, who uses the professional name Girl Talk,, already a bio-enginneer earning a significant salary, began performing as a kind of DJ (but according to Andrew, *he's self admittedly NOT A DJ, he's a laptop musician - the campaign we did for him when he was getting big was this series of shirts that say I'M NOT A DJ - again - playing with perception and constructs*) at music events and became increasingly in demand. Andrew worked with Gregg, developing his website, CD covers and accompanying him on gigs including a six week countrywide and Canadian tour plus a show at the TIM Music Festival in Rio de Janeiro, while producing the big screen effects for his shows. Chris Glover was another singer for whom Andrew did a lot of design work. Joe Williams started out slowly but developed to the point where he was being booked for gigs at venues across the country and abroad as “White Williams.” (Joe is known as White Williams because his girlfriend is Black, among other “mysterious reasons”). Joe was one of a small group from Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Academy of Design (CCAD).

What I really wanted to convey here was what happened when this network of friends either graduated or just moved on. Most of them wound up in New York City, as did both Andrew and his sister Dana. In fact, Dana, who went to college at Cooper two years after her brother went to CIA, became something of a bridge for the Cleveland crowd. Dana had gone to Cleveland to visit her brother during his first year at CIA and got to know his roommate Jed at the dorm and all of his friends there. When these people came to NYC, they often crashed at Dana's already crowded apartment, which she shared with three other students a few blocks from Cooper Square in the East Village. She became an integral part of this group and very close to several of them. In fact, today she rooms with two CIA girls.

When the kids from Cleveland began to move to NYC, certain friends were helpful. The Bard kids were already established there and Hannah, who after working at a high society magazine got a job at a place called US Concepts in event planning, acted as kind of a mother figure for everyone, getting them hooked up in the big city. Andrew got a job at US Concepts through her and was running events across the country for some sports products. Another Bard student, Frank, was the one with whom Andrew moved in when he arrived in NYC. Antoinio moved to NYC to work as a hair dresser eventually with Bergdorf Goodman, although he eventually moved back to Cleveland which he thought was less hectic, but is reportedly working his way back to NY. As hairdresser to some important celebrity clients, including Lindsay Lohan’s Mom, he set up Andrew with a job at this photo agency when he first arrived. Lisa a CIA student who graduated the year before Andrew’s class and got to NYC ahead of a lot of her friends, started out working for a well known artist in NY and hoped it would lead to something for her. However, as is often the case, successful people in NY exploit young interns. Lisa quit and worked instead at her comic book art at home while waiting tables to earn money. She eventually became Dana's roommate when Dana liberated herself from her Cooper roommates, who never were part of this circle. She and Lisa moved in with Thu Tran in Brooklyn when they got kicked out of a NY loft apartment which got cited for code violations. When Andrew moved out of his apartment with Frank, he eventually moved back into a place with his former roomates from Ford Street, Jed and Shawn, with whom he gets along so well. The Cleveland kids also hooked up in NY with a group of girls from Atlanta who were involved in event promotion at US Concepts, which is how Hannah got her job there, and who were dating some the musicians in the groups. One of them, Kasey, became quite a good promoter and was responsible to some extent for the success of Gregg Gillis, whose career took off after she started getting him bookings. Gregg opened a show in Las Vegas for Kanye West and appeared at the Cochella Festival in California, where Paris Hilton attended his show and jumped up on the stage to dance. Andrew was there for all of it.

In New York, there was also a group of kids from Oberlin, whom the CIA kids met through Johnny. Johnny was always involving himself in projects and was working at the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art when he met Andrew and his friends. There were at least three other Oberlin kids who formed a band and were into some experimental substance use. There was also a group of kids from Delaware, who Andrew describes as “skeptical,” because they never were enthusiastic about anything.

Of Andrew’s Poughkeepsie high school friends, Anand, an Indian chap, went to NYU to study and become involved in film making. He also worked for a while at US Concepts. Joanne, was one of the brightest kids in the Spackenkill graduating class, is a Korean girl who spent a year back I Korea teaching English after graduating from U Penn., and first took a job in Princeton at a publishing house, but switched to a great job at Google in NYC. For a while, she and Dana talked about rooming together, but the timing never worked out. She remains a good friend of both Andrew and Dana’s. Dana has also remained close with Anu, an Indian girl who grew up in Chicago, and a fellow Cooper architecture student, but not one of the Cleveland circle.

Andrew moved away from working for others such as the photographic agency and US Concepts and decided he wanted only to work for himself as a consultant. Constantly meeting new people at events and also not shy about approaching people, Andrew’s work became more and more creating websites and designing overall themes for clients. Although he worked commercially for some women who were promoting either their image or their jewelry collection, in the former case, helping one ex-model to develop a book about her career, Andrew actually liked musicians as clients. He found them easy to work with and more appreciative of his product. Andrew really liked touring with Gegg Gillis and Joe . In addition to traveling with Gregg to Brazil, Joe invited Andrew to accompany him also to Brazil. Since Andrew is both American and Brazilian, speaks Portuguese and knows his way around, he is a real asset when his friends go down there. He also developed a couple of musician clients that he felt really excited about, Larry Tee and Andrew WK. Basically, he approached them on MySpace and it worked.

The kids from Cleveland communicate constantly with each other through email, preferably g-mail, and text messages. They are constantly communicating where the next party or event will take place. Most of their entertainment is low budget or free. A lot of house parties and cooked up food takes place. Jed lived for a while when he moved from his upstate NY home to a big loft apartment whose occupants charged for attendance at parties there where food was provided. There are also a lot of promotional events that people can go to and be part of the glitz and get free food.

Andrew believes that his group of friends has gone through phases of more or less enthusiasm and determination. He feels that a lot of people depend on him for ideas for projects and the energy to launch them and then bring them into these plans. But Andrew has become out of necessity more and more of a consultant and free lance artist in order to pay his bills and also to grow his business. He is particularly at ease working for musicians, who he feels are less high maintenance and tight fisted, while some of his more commercial clients tend to be tight wads and demand a lot of time and attention while not always being willing to foot the bill. I mention this, only to make it clear that these kids are not really anything like a social movement. Each one has to pay the rent, food, transportation, communication and entertainment expenses. If Andrew hopes to lead at least some of his friends into joint projects, these may take a second place to today's demands. But his moving in with Jed and Shawn again was definitely aimed at trying to sustain their ability to work well together as a team.

Many of the kids from Cleveland are not in NY, although they drift in and out of it. Gregg lives in Pittsburgh. Andrew's friend Kyle from Poughkeepsie, who followed him to Cleveland where he became a Ford St. roommate wound up going to school in Buffalo and moving to an upstate New York farm community. Kyle is a brilliant black kid of Caribbean origin, who is totally devoid of ambition. He passed up a full Merit scholarship when he graduated high school because he never applied to any schools. Kyle likes to have a girlfriend, and does well in this regard. As mentioned, Antonio is back in Cleveland, but coming back to NY. Hannah, the centerpiece of much of the NY scene, Who dated Joe Williams for a long time, moved with her new boyfriend to Wisconsin and wound up in Chicago, her home town, where she “owns an apartment.” The always electric Fuki, (whose father is a psychiatrist near Osaka), after graduating, travelled around the world followed a Norwegian-American boyfriend to Nepal, got married and are livng, following the ways of Buddha. However, Fuki and her boyfriend are now back visiting in New York for a few months to reconnect with her friends there. Another Ford Street roommate, a Case Western student named JP, decided to go to teach English in China after graduating and remained there a couple of years. He is now planning on returning to the States and settling in New York, reconnecting with his Cleveland friends there.

One of the aspects of the Cleveland kids' lifestyle that I have trouble accepting is its apolitical nature. These are kids who believe in freedom, diversity and tolerance, but who do nothing perceptible to promote any political beliefs, per se. This is so different from my own generation born in the throes of the Vietnam War and the revolutions of 1968, forty years ago. If they have been touched or moved by the so-called "Obama-effect," it is hard to perceive. They do believe in some things, but seem pretty much to be living for themselves, but in a not very materialistic way. They are normally unlikely to vote and less likely express a political belief to in any way. My own kids are aware of politics, being my children, and have some knowledge of things, but are not very interested and do not make much of an effort to keep themselves informed. They do not read newspapers, watch PBS news, listen to NPR or watch the Sunday political talk shows or read Time, Newsweek, the Economist or US News and World Report. The truth is this generation, raised on TV, has not watched TV since the went off to college, and could not afford cable if they wanted to. I keep wondering what this generation would be like during an ongoing war if there were a draft as we were subjected to during the Vietnam War.

But it is a little too easy to dismiss these kids as “apolitical,” when in fact they do have beliefs and goals, though these are more social than anything that could be called strictly political. There is Troy, for instance, a friend of Andrew’s who went from the CIA to New York to complete a degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) there. He has tried his hand at fashion (we attended an impressive fashion show he prepared at an impressive venue called Capitale, in New York’s Chinatown), but not feeling he was getting the kind of recognition he deserves, he moved into investing in real estate instead. Asking how he felt he was realizing his artistic interests in real estate, Troy said his ultimate goal, besides earning money, is to create back in his native Cleveland, in the more abandoned area of downtown, an area that would be home for an artistic community, something lacking in Cleveland. Andrew himself, among his projects, has kept alive something called “Save Brazil,” an idea of raising money for Brazilian environmental and social causes by throwing Brazilian music events in New York. Another friend, Alex, has taken his own interest in Cleveland bands and put on a couple of “Cleveland in New York,” music events, with the money raised going to an HIV/AIDS group.

A new book, Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube and the Future of American Politics, by Moreley Winograd and Michael D. Hais , says that this generation is extremely political. I think it is going to have to remain an open question whether the Millennials really have time for politics. Certainly, they do not and won’t for politics as usual, which, first of all, bores them and second, they find irrelevant and a waste of time. It a new kind of politics engages them on their own terms, perhaps they will engage in a very positive way. Of all my kids’ friends, andrew’s roommate Jed is perhaps the most admittedly political. He says he attends meetings of the Socialist Party in New York. He likes Obama but has not actually done anything for Obama’s candidacy, which as a Democratic candidate, Jed finds still somewhat conventional. Coming from working class background, Jed finds a more openly class-based politics more rewarding. Winograd and Hais are correct in once sense: Obama’s followers did use the social networking techniques of the Millennials to successfully organize and especially fund raise among them in a way that totally took the Hillary Clinton campaign by surprise and from which it never quite recovered. Instead, Hillary went around telling her industrial age supporters to donate money by going to her webpage and then had to spell out for them that it was” HillaryClinton.com,” Duh!

One reason why I kept up with Andrew’s friends and associates is that he often brought them home from Cleveland. These kids were good about including their parents in things and we got to know several of the kids’ parents when we went to Cleveland for events, and of course graduation was a big deal for the parents. In many ways I felt that the bonds among the kids from Cleveland were much stronger than the kind of bonds you develop when you graduate from most colleges. The kids from Cleveland were totally irreverent towards their schools and professors. They are definitely not the next great candidates for the alumni annual fund drive. The felt they were creating their own reality. Where this was or is headed is hard to say because the kind of aesthetic they pursue is quite non-conventional. A lot of it seems aimed at creating some kind of shocking response from the audience, but not quite offensive nor pornographic.
Andrew’s latest project, alongside his work with clients is creation of a character named Bad Brilliance, which is a man with a large yellow balloon head and a red zoot suit (http://www.badbrilliance.com/). Andrew started appearing as Bad Brilliance at NYC events and got himself a photo in Time Out New York magazine emerging from a taxi. The magazine called Bad Brilliance a “highly entertaining art oddity.” He was invited to other events for a modest fee and most recently was invited to perform in three venues in Holland. Since Bad Brilliance is more a personality than a show, he had to quickly develop some kind of repertoire for a performance, turning to his electronic music. As weird as Bad Brilliance is, it is kind of fun and has potential. I told him to think about a children’s show, mixing a cartoonish figure with the irreverence of a Soupy Sales or Peewee Herman.

I have two questions about the kids from Cleveland to which I do not have the answer. One is whether their group is actually representative of a generation of kids who are showing up in big cities to launch careers. I would be surprised if this rather large network of kids is that common, but it seems that smaller groups would be inevitable, in part enabled by not only school ties, but also the effect of the cell phone, text messaging and social networking sites. The cell phone has virtually changed the way in which young people make decisions, enabling them to put them off until the last possible minute and then finding out all the necessary information at the last minute. The fact that this happens collectively makes it even more complicated. But I am going to assume that there really is a millennial generation out there and that the kids from Cleveland correspond to it.

However, I do want to make the argument to the uniqueness of this particular group as well. It is quite reasonable to ask: why Cleveland, why New York? Is there any special connection here between seemingly distant and different cities, one the megacity of the Northeast coast and the other one of a number of Midwestern cities that have suffered from post –industiral age decline. Personally, I am a great believer that history leaves marks, even grooves in which subsequent events and patterns run even if they may be somewhat unaware of these forces pulling on them. Having a son attending school in Cleveland forced me to learn more about its history. The Northeastern part of Ohio has a special relationship with the Northeastern United States because that area was once a part of Connecticut, the so-called Western Reserve of Connecticut. That is where the name of Case Western University comes from. Connecticut, as other US colonies and then states, were given not jus their coastal lands but a swath of land running indefinitely West to the Pacific, assuming the land itself belonged to England. In 1786, Connecticut gave up its rights to its western lands, as had Virginia before it, in exchange for the Federal government assuming all of its debts, but it reserved for itself a quadrant of land that today is NE Ohio. A decade later, it sold this land to a private development company which sent an expedition to settle it led by Moses Cleaveland, who gave his name, changed by mapmakers, to the city of Cleveland. During a long period, eastern Ohio was settled by Connecticut Yankees and its architecture and thinking was shaped by them. A connection remained. It is not an accident that the leading Ohio political dynasty, the Tafts, sends its sons to Yale for their educations. (I have to offer full disclosure that I was privileged in my introduction to Cleveland to have first stayed at the home of William Howard Taft’s grandson, Seth, whose wife, Franny, was a member of the Board of Directors at the Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill when I worked there and also regularly taught a class at the CIA on Andean Art. When Andrew attended the CIA, I relied on her to “keep an eye on him for me.”) While Connecticut is not identical to New York, it is undoubtedly closely connected with New York geographically, economically, socially and as part of a larger urban complex in which commuters from Connecticut work in NYC each day.

Another important historical connection between Cleveland and New York is the Eire Canal. Conceived in the late 18th Century and built in the first quarter of the 19th Century, the canal, known as “Clinton’s Folly,” was long considered too difficult and expensive to achieve. Eventually, it linked New York City to the Mid-west by connecting the Hudson River near Albany to Lake Erie on which Cleveland sits, thus enabling the growth of major Upstate New York cities like Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, Rome and Utica. Indeed, it is said that the growth of New York itself as a major trading city was due to the Canal which gave it an advantage over other East Coast cities throughout the 19th Century until other canals, rail and road overtook the canal’s importance in commerce. The Canal opened up the interior of America to the growth of agricultural and later industrial exports. During the late 19h Century, Cleveland was considered one of the great cities of America. Its Euclid Avenue contained so many mansions, it was known as “Millionaires’ Row.” (One can visit today the home of former Secretary of State John Hay on Euclid to get a feeling of the opulence of the times.) We should also remember that it was in Cleveland that the Rockefellers first made their fortune, where John D. Rockefeller as a young man first set out in 1855 from home to find a job as an assistant bookkeeper in one of the city’s major businesses. Thirteen years later and already in the oil business, he bought one of the more modest homes on Euclid. In 1883, considered among the most wealthy Americans, he moved to New York. Today, the Rockefellers are considered the most identifiable of New York’s dynastic families.

The second question I have is where these kids, this generation, is headed. This is complicated since they themselves do not appear to know where they want to go with their lives and talents. Probably, they will eventually settle down and raise families and pay mortgages, but right now the lifestyle of living in NY does not point in that direction. People do hook up with each other, however and these relationships eventually lead to something. After a frustrating period in college where she dated little. Dana met a guy through one of her Cooper art major friends and dated him for nine months. One aspect of our own children is that they have some family and some friends of the family in NY that keep them tied into their Jewish roots. They have slightly older cousins with families and children in NY. But not everybody can become a permanent New Yorker and New York is definitely more for singles than for families if you are basically middle class. The economics of raising a family in “the City” is just not positive. But there are lots of options in the region around it, although the idea of moving to the suburbs probably does not excite these kids at this time. There are still careers to be conquered.
When Dana graduated from Cooper last year, we decided to do a lunch to celebrate at a local Brazilian restaurant and invited about 30 of her and Andrew’s friends and what family and close family friends we have in NYC. It was quite a nice informal affair and even included Andrew and Dana’s art teacher from Spackenkill who did so much to direct them toward their school majors in design and architecture. Not since the kids were Bar and Bat Mitzvahed a decade earlier had we had a chance to celebrate their achievements. Mostly it was a chance for us to include their best friends in this large network in New York in our proud celebration. I was very impressed by how well these young people got along and were able to communicate with the adults in the room. I have spent so much time with youngsters whose last wish would be to spend time with anyone ten years older than themselves. These kids, however, seemed genuinely interested in listening to and learning from their friends’ parents and relatives. It was one other small sign that this is a different generation of kids who love to meet parents and who can feel comfortable with older adults. I know in part that my own kids boast a lot about us and have so often brought their friends home with them, expecting to see wonderful things in our home from our travels abroad and eat exotic foods from Brazil.

What I can be assured of, however, is that things will not stay the same. A generation, made up of individuals, will move along as each member makes his or her own life. They may be influenced by professional or financial opportunities, luck in whom they meet and especially in love, by the future of world events from the economy and potential hard times to the prospect of a continuing festering war with intolerance and backwardness, punctuated by inconceivable instances of horror, or by a long term struggle with ecological decline or even Malthusian competition for ever more scarce global resources. Prospects are not totally rosy. Yet there remains hope as ever in human innovativeness and creativity, in the long term and still believable prospects of progress in human affairs and above all in the underlying goodness of human kind of which the Kids from Cleveland represent a good measure.


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